Could new healthcare law shut down volunteer fire departments?

(WBIR-Hartford) Volunteer fire departments across the country are taking a closer look at the Affordable Care Act, wondering if any part of it would pertain to them.

Grassy Fork Chief Walt Cross is one leader that's wondering about it.

"Whether it affects this fire department, or this community - at the volume of firefighters that we have," said Chief Cross. "It will affect fire departments across the United States."

It all stems from the fact that, according to the IRS, volunteer firefighters are referred to as "employees." That has several local leaders across the country wondering if that means they would have to be covered under the employee insurance mandate.

"Administration does not change that, it would be catastrophic," Chief Cross added. "It would close the doors of most volunteer fire departments."

As it stands, a business that has more than 50 employees who each work 30 hours a week would be required to provide them with health insurance by March 31st.

However, clarification could soon arrive. A Senateand Houseversion of the "Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act" is currently making its way in Washington. Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe is one of the co-sponsors of the House bill that would exempt all volunteer fire departments from the ACA requirement.

Rep. Roe said in a statement to 10News: "Being forced to comply with the president's health care law could end the volunteer services we rely on as we know it."

Until there is that clarification between the ACA and these VFDs, Chief Cross cannot say for certain if doors would stay open.

"I would venture to say this would close the fire departments of this county," he said.

A spokesperson with the Department of Treasury told 10News they're currently taking comments on the matter of classifying volunteer firefighters as employees or not.

Lawmakers' full responses

10News obtained comments from some East Tennessee lawmakers on the very issue of VFD "employee" status.

Rep. Phil Roe:

I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 3685, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. Our volunteer firefighters and first responders are a crucial part of our community and are already being forced to do more with fewer resources. Being forced to comply with the president's health care law could end the volunteer services we rely on as we know it. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many unintended consequences of Obamacare, and I will continue working diligently to protect East Tennesseans from the harmful effects of the law.

Rep. Jimmy Duncan:

This year the National Association of Development Organizations named Congressman Duncan the top defender of rural America in the 435-member House of Representatives. He understands the budget challenges faced by rural communities, which often have volunteer emergency services.

The IRS could make this exemption on its own. Congressman Duncan hopes commonsense prevails and legislative action won't be needed, but he will fully support any effort to exempt volunteer emergency services from Obamacare's requirements.

Former Speaker Pelosi infamously said we have to pass Obamacare to find out what's in it. And now we are finding out. All over the country workers are having their jobs eliminated or hours cut to part time because of the requirements in Obamacare.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann:

When Nancy Pelosi claimed 'we have to pass the bill to find out what's in it,' she wasn't lying. This is yet another unfortunate side effect of a horrendous law that is hurting Americans across the country. Volunteer firefighters and EMS provide a tremendous service to their communities and deserve better than this.

Sen. Bob Corker:

Unfortunately, we're getting calls and emails every day from incredibly distressed Tennesseans who are being negatively impacted by Obamacare. I look forward to reviewing the legislation introduced this week to determine if it's the most effective way to address this issue.


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